Widow wins landmark ruling on RAF survivor pension rights

A widow has won the right to her deceased partner’s military pension following a landmark pension ruling in the Court of Appeal.

Air Commodore Christopher Green was a serving officer in the Royal Air Force when he died suddenly and unexpectedly on 17 May 2011. He had been in a committed relationship with Jane Langford for 15 years.

Although the RAF pension scheme provides for unmarried partners of officers to receive a pension in the event of an officer’s death, Langford was refused one as she had not divorced her previous partner. This decision was based on a rule in the scheme’s pension regulations.
However, the Court of Appeal has unanimously held that this rule breached Langford’s rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.

The lead judgment was given by Lord Justice McCombe, who was also critical of the government’s conduct of the litigating.

“The relaxed way in which the minister and/or her advisers approached the procedural requirements in this case is not acceptable on the part of any litigant, whoever he or she may be.”

This decision is likely to have a far-reaching impact. The rule which was held to be unlawful in Langford’s case is found in most public sector pension schemes including Education, Police, Fire Service, NHS and Civil Service, which have millions of members.

Anyone who has been refused a surviving partner’s pension because they had not divorced an ex-partner may now be able to bring a claim, including for back payments.

Langford was represented by London boutique litigation firm Candey and barristers Chris Buttler and Raj Desai of Matrix Chambers.

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